Mystery Worshipper: Mark Wuntoo
Church: Christ Church Cathedral
Location: Stanley, Falkland Islands
Date of visit: Sunday, 26 February 2006, 10:00am
Christ Church is the southernmost cathedral in the world and is undoubtedly the most impressive and beautiful building in the Falklands, surpassing even Government House. Consecrated in 1892, it is quite basic in design but with some beautiful stained glass and an attractive wooden chancel screen. The structure is of naturally coloured stone, red brick and corrugated iron. There is a bell tower containing five bells which are rung before each main Sunday service. Tall trees hide the main frontage; although they might be trimmed to good effect, people are reluctant to cut them down as the preservation of old trees is a high priority for the environmentally conscious Falklanders. The interior bears a number of reminders, in the form of plaques and flags, of the events of 1982 and of the "liberation" of the Falklands from Argentina by British forces. The recently refurbished parish hall adjoining the church building is an attractive facility used by church and community alike.
This is the parish church of the Falkland Islands, South Georgia, South Sandwich Islands and the British Antarctic Territories. The Christian community in Stanley is not strong. On a good day church attendance might be a little higher than five percent of the population; for "official" services it is higher. The sense of self-confidence in the wider community was not noticeable to me either at the cathedral or the United Free Church Tabernacle down the road. Sadly, it was almost exclusively in the churches that I discovered the few people who showed irrational antagonism toward ordinary Argentine people.
Stanley, the capital of the Falklands, sits on the easternmost tip of the East Island. Formerly known as Port Stanley, the city has undergone a major upheaval since the events of 1982. From a community in decline almost to the point of extinction, Stanley has become a major tourist attraction such that workers for the service industries must be recruited from Chile and St Helena. Tourism is now the Falklands' second main source of revenue next to the issuance of fishing licenses for the exploitation of squid. Taxicab companies have sprung up to take visitors to the nearby beaches, penguin rookeries and battle sites. The cathedral itself is surrounded by cafes, restaurants, clothing and electronic boutiques, etc. All in all, the Falklanders seem to cope extremely well with the two major impacts on their lives, tourism and the issue of sovereignty. One senses a strong sense of self-identity and pride, coupled with a healthy scepticism toward Britain's declared intention of maintaining the current level of support for the Islands, particularly the high cost of maintaining the military.
The Rev. Kathy Biles was assisted by various lay members who read the lessons and the intercessions.
What was the name of the service?All age worship
How full was the building?
There were a number of rows of empty pews, although the congregation was dispersed and the building felt rather more comfortably full than the small numbers might suggest.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
Mrs Wuntoo and I, along with a leading Argentine Baptist minister with whom we have been friends for many years, were warmly welcomed at the door by the clergy and two stewards.
Was your pew comfortable?
It was a pew so it did not mould the body! But it had a runner to soften the hardness of the wood on our rear parts.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Quiet and peaceful.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Good morning and welcome to our service of all age worship."
What books did the congregation use during the service?
Service Book of Christ Church Cathedral, a hymnal entitled Sing Glory, and the New Revised Standard version of the Bible.
What musical instruments were played?
A smallish pipe organ, quite sufficient to lead the singing.
Did anything distract you?
The walls were covered with plaques commemorating noteworthy Falklanders of the past. I realise that for some people such memorials are an aid to worship, but I do not approve of such veneration. I was pleased to see that a few of the people honoured were Falklanders I had known and who would not have described themselves as "special."
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
It was relaxed yet fairly formal. At one point I observed a teenager clapping quietly to the beat of a song, but the others did not take it up and she soon stopped.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
7 – Kathy got off to a poor beginning as she addressed the children. I thought it was going to be a children's sermon, but she soon adopted a more adult tone.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
Just as a rainbow changes the light, so the disciples at the Transfiguration saw Jesus in a different light. Peter did not have a digital camera at his disposal, but he nevertheless captured something of the glorious light and made it permanent. We cannot reach out and touch the glory of Jesus, but we can catch something of it from Mark's gospel story and we can share it, like we share experiences with others on the internet.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
To have returned to the Islands was such a delight, and to be worshipping with a dear Argentine friend by our side was very special.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
The person who read the intercessions apparently did not know how to use a microphone, and so the intecessions were almost completely inaudible.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
We were invited to the parish hall for coffee and biscuits. People were friendly, and although the conversation was pleasurable it was a little hard-going in that we sometimes had to initiate the discussion. I was reminded of the shyness and reserve of Islanders pre-1982.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
It was plain coffee served in a china cup, nothing special but adequate and refreshing.
How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
6 – Hard to say, as we aren't residents of the Falklands. If we were, we might be drawn more toward the Free Church down the road, although the fact that we chose not to write a Mystery Worship report on our experience there would weigh against it.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Yes. We felt glad just to be back in the Falklands once again. On top of that, the atmosphere at the cathedral was welcoming and warm and the service was easy to follow, so it reinforced our Christian joy.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?
The joy of sharing worship with an Argentine Christian who had returned after 40 years because he loves the Islands and the people.